A disturbing statistic suggests that every one out of eight baby boomers will end up with Alzheimer’s disease. Ten years ago estimates are that 500,000 Americans were diagnosed with this ravaging disease. That number is now over five million! Unlike heart disease and cancer, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a brain wasting disease. Nearly 15 million unpaid caregivers are helping someone with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. There are a lot, I mean a lot of families that are now being affected and more will be in the future. Every 69 seconds someone gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. About eight years ago my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and up until last August, my father did his best to take care of her but it eventually became too much for him–he just turned 90. After she fell down upstairs for the second time, he could not move her to the bed and so he called 911 and this became the transition from the hospital to an assisted care facility. It is very tough on everyone in the family, especially on my father, who now is only able to visit her 3-4 times a week instead of everyday. A few months ago he fell at home and fractured his sacrum, necessitating 2-months of rehab to be able to walk on his own. He is now at home and holding his own but my brother and I worry about him, and my mother. Each in our own way, we have both become caregivers and helpers, particularly my brother who lives just 40-minutes from my father since my family lives in Los Angeles and I live in Salem, Oregon. I visit often but not nearly often enough.
I just finished watching a documentary produced by Sir Terry Pratchett, a world renown author of fantasy books. He at 60-years old has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 2-3 years ago. The documentary is free to watch on YouTube about his inquiry into conscious dying. In the documentary he visits with two men who decided to use a service in Switzerland (where assisted suicide is legal) to kill themselves with the assistance of the state sanctioned program. One of the men had MS and the other motor neuron disease, both progressive degenerative diseases. Mr. Pratchett is considering using this service when he can no longer write any more of his books. He already cannot type but dictates to a helper who types for him. He knows the time will come when he will no longer be able to depend on his brain to maintain his normal life with autonomy and dignity. It is well done and quite thought provoking. If you came down with Alzheimer’s disease and gradually your memory began to deteriorate, what would you choose? Have you ever been in an assisted care facility on a floor of advanced Alzheimer’s patients? It is very very depressing. At least Switzerland is enlightened enough to offer this choice. But it seems like a tough choice. I would like to make a joke and say, drink more green tea and eat more dark chocolate for the antioxidants but sadly, it is not a joking matter. Too many of us may be faced with this same decision, or end up with a partner with some form of dementia. If you want to think more deeply about this, consider seeing the documentary. It is well done and informative.
Posted by Howard Brockman, LCSW
June 29, 2012